by Michael Caruso
The 67th annual festival of concerts in Chestnut Hill’s Pastorius Park continued Wednesday, June 24, with a sterling performance by The Lawsuits. Despite bouts of horrific weather before and after last Wednesday evening, the concert and its audience were the beneficiaries of Mother Nature’s good wishes with surprisingly pleasant weather.
The band efficaciously offered one of the most eclectic stylistic examples of music making I’ve ever encountered in Pastorius Park during my many years of attending the summer season of concerts. When the musicians chose a song with a slow tempo, they pulled it off expertly with gentle rhythms and an unbroken flow of melody and harmony that was perfectly relaxing for out-of-doors. When they aimed for a more tart-sounding country style, they invested the singing and playing with a pronounced twang that was always nearby to the sultry. When the intention was for a more upbeat mood, the music was intense without becoming pushy.
The players interacted naturally and unaffectedly. They propelled the music forward without stopping too long for the efforts of one over the others, yet they gave each player and singer the chance to make his or her telling contribution to the number as a whole. They always remembered that the lyrics play a seminal part in every song, assuring that each selection had its own special personality taken from those words.
Donald Nally and The Crossing brought their “Month of Moderns” festival of three concerts of contemporary choral music to a spectacular finale Saturday, June 27, in the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill. The program offered a single work – Englishman Joby Talbot’s “Path of Miracles” enhanced by projections by Brett Snodgrass – and was, in my opinion, the finest ever given by Nally and his band of intrepid, talented singers. The audience that packed the Church responded with a spirited standing ovation at its conclusion.
“Paths of Miracles” details just that – the miracles given to those pilgrims who made in the past and continue to make in the present their tortured way across Spain – starting at Roncesvalles, going on to Burgos and then Leon, until finally reaching Santiago at Compostella to pay homage to St. James the Greater. The Biblical son of Zebedee and brother of St. John the Apostle and Evangelist, St. James is designated “the Greater” to differentiate him from St. James the Lesser, who was a kinsman of Jesus Christ, the first Bishop of Jerusalem and the writer of a New Testament Epistle that bears his name.
Talbot’s score is, itself, a miraculous marriage of the old with the new. Evoking the sounds and feels of the music of the ancient Hebrew and Roman worlds, invoking the mystical modality of Medieval plainsong, Talbot has achieved a musical language that is both distinctively idiosyncratic and accessibly expressive. The music not merely matches the intense fervor of a faith that believes in a truth greater than discernible fact, but it enhances it through moments of searing revelation and sublime assurance.
Although St. Stephen was the first Christian martyr, St. James the Greater was the first of the Apostles to be martyred – by the sword at the command of King Herod Agrippa in the Roman Empire’s province of Judea in the first century A.D. Eight centuries after his martyrdom, his remains were found to have been miraculously transported from the Middle East to Compostella (Field of Stars) in Spain, where they immediately became a shrine of pilgrimage for the faithful throughout the Christian world. To this day, Santiago (St. James) at Compostella remains one of the principal sites of pilgrimage, along with Lourdes in France and Fatima in Portugal, for Christians the world over seeking miraculous cures of ailments both physical and spiritual.